“There’s a female gaze,” Zoe Chao says of “Strangers,” a new, seven-episode scripted digital series that will debut on Refinery29 later this year. Its first three episodes were screened at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday.
Chao plays Isobel, a woman exploring her sexual identity while renting out her apartment to “strangers” on Airbnb. “Each guest comes into her life and teaches her a lesson,” Chao says.
Inside a cozy Park City cabin, Chao is joined by “Strangers” creator Mia Lidofsky; costar Meredith Hagner, who currently stars on TBS’ “Search Party;” guest star Jemima Kirke, and director Celia Rowlson-Hall to discuss their new project. It turns out the bunch is anything but strangers.
Lidofsky and Chao have been best friends since they were three years old and grew up doing school plays together. “I wanted Zoe to have the platform that I always knew she deserved,” Lidofsky says.
Hagner plays Chao’s lesbian best friend on the show. In real life, she’s Lidofsky’s former roommate. “We met originally through my ex-boyfriend years ago,” Hagner says. “Mia’s got such a unique aesthetic, vision, voice. She creates this world that I don’t think is represented on screen very often.”
Of Hagner, Lidofsky says, “When you look at her, you might not think, ‘She should play an androgynous lesbian in a series,’ but she has this magnetic energy and I wanted to capture that.”
Meanwhile, Lidofsky and Rowlson-Hall are partners in real life. “We’re both committed to seeing one another succeed,” says Rowlson-Hall, who directed a few episodes.
“I really wanted to see more people like myself on screen and I also wanted to explore the idea of bisexuality,” explains Lidofsky, “which has such a small presence and is often so dismissed.”
Then there’s the “Girls” connection, which is how Kirke, who stars on the HBO show, came to be involved. “Strangers” is executive produced by “Girls” writer Jesse Peretz, whom Lidofsky assisted for several years. Kirke plays one of the Airbnb guests who inhabits Chao’s apartment.
Other guest stars throughout the series will include Shiri Appleby, Jemaine Clement, Breeda Wool and Langston Kerman.
“Strangers” is an Indiegogo-funded project that was selected for the AFI Directing Workshop for Women before Refinery29 came on board. In addition to “Strangers,” Refinery29 had two short films at Sundance as part of its Shatterbox Anthology series. Among them was Kristen Stewart’s directorial debut “Come Swim” and director Anu Valia’s “Lucia, Before and After,” which on Tuesday was awarded the Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction.